Defence Force Posture Review 

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update outlined the rapidly changing strategic circumstances in our region. 

The Update was notable particularly for highlighting that previous “Defence planning has assumed a ten-year strategic warning time for a major conventional attack against Australia. This is no longer an appropriate basis for defence planning”.  

This is because Australian interests are being targeted directly and indirectly by coercion, competition, and ‘grey-zone’ activities. 

Australia cannot rely on a timely warning ahead of a conflict occurring, because of growing regional military capabilities and the speed at which they can be deployed, and therefore Australia cannot assume it can gradually adjust military capability and preparedness in response to emerging challenges. 

Context 

Force posture is about adapting to the evolving security and strategic environment, its impact on where the ADF is based and on facilities, and how the ADF is affected by domestic and demographic issues. 

Despite the warning of changing strategic circumstances, the Coalition has largely ignored Defence Posture.  

Only two fully-fledged Defence Posture Reviews have occurred in recent times – former Defence Minister Beazley’s mid-1980’s review (chaired by Paul Dibb), and the other under former Defence Minister Stephen Smith in 2012 (chaired by Alan Hawke and Ric Smith). 

The 2012 review was undertaken to see if the ADF was “correctly geographically positioned to meet Australia’s modern and future strategic and security challenges.” 

While the Government has regularly spoken of – and taken credit for – posture related activities, such as upgrades to Defence assets in Northern Australia, and the presence of US Marines, it rarely acknowledges these are a result of Labor’s Posture initiatives. 

This is partly because the Government is distracted by delays and cost-blowouts on major capability issues. But aside from not properly addressing the growing capability issues, the Government has not sought any independent and comprehensive advice on force posture. 

This is in stark contrast to our Allies, such as US President Biden who tasked Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to conduct a global posture review to ensure the footprint of American service members worldwide is correctly sized and supports strategy, with a strong focus on the Indo-Pacific. 

Furthermore, Labor has given bipartisan support to the AUKUS partnership with the United States and United Kingdom to strengthen the Indo-Pacific. A Force Posture Review helps ensure that arrangement is working in Australia’s best strategic interests.

What is a Defence Force Posture Review? 

A Defence Posture Review is a significant undertaking that holistically looks at how the ADF assets and personnel are positioned to deal with the current and future strategic circumstances for Australia and the Indo-Pacific region. 

A posture review is necessitated by:  

  • the Strategic Update’s findings;  
  • the decision in February by US President Biden to conduct a global defence posture review (which has significant focus on US operations in the Indo-Pacific); 
  • regional circumstances, including Australia’s role the Indo-Pacific, particularly Northern Australia and North-West Australia;  
  • maximising the potential of the important, bipartisan AUKUS agreement with the United States and United Kingdom; and  
  • the bipartisan $270 billion capability acquisition program. 

Labor’s Plan 

A Labor Defence Force Posture Review would ensure the Australian Government is considering both long-term strategic posture, and whether Australian defence units, assets and facilities are prepared for the military to take action in a timely way amid a deteriorating strategic situation. 

It is more than places and bases, it is how we participate in regional exercises and mobilise our troops in times of conflict. 

The Indo-Pacific would be a key focus, and facilitate an opportunity to rebalance our strategic positioning, and develop strategic policy in tandem with key allies like the US. 

The review would have: 

  • Independent chair(s),  
  • suitable terms of reference, including whether the ADF has the posture and infrastructure to mobilise quickly if required, particularly immediate challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, and the ability to audit the 2012 review for unimplemented recommendations, 
  • a secretariat with support staff,  
  • experts (both internal and external to Defence), 
  • consultation with Defence personnel, 
  • a call for submissions (including expert bodies and think tanks (e.g. ASPI), defence industry organisations, and state governments), and 
  • an internal panel to collect information required from the Department of Defence.